Home Bartender's Shopping List

Home Bartender’s Shopping List

  • Jigger

  • Y-peeler – express yourself

  • Knives – 1 paring knife; 1 serrated bread knife

  • Shaking Tins – 18oz + 28oz

  • Mixing Glass – 500 or 550ml.

  • Barspoon

  • Hawthorne Strainer

  • Basket/Bird’s Nest Strainer

  • Julep strainer – pure vanity

  • Juicer

  • Base Spirits

  • Bitters

  • Sugar

  • Adjunct Ingredients

  • Centrifuge – spin class

  • Rotary evaporator


Great Northern Exposure: Rock, Paper, Booze


Great Northern Exposure: Rock, Paper, Booze

Madison Cocktail Week was delighted to have the chance to briefly pick Great Northern Distilling's Brian Cummins' brain. You can chat with him in person tonight at Julep and The Old Fashioned. We think you'll definitely want to after reading this. 

What's the most essential component of a classic Wisconsin fish fry?

The batter has to be a tried and true flavorful recipe- no panko-crusted fish will pass for a wisconsin fish fry. Well-used oil and a fry-o-lator that dates from the 1950's helps too.

Perch or Cod? Why?

Perch by a mile. You can get fried cod just about anywhere in the county, but perch seems to be exclusive to the upper midwest. Plus, it is a much more sustainably harvested and local fish than cod that comes from a long distance with questionable sourcing.

Go-to cocktail to accompany at a fish fry?

Whiskey old fashioned sour with mushrooms. 

Can you describe how you’ve gone about deciding Great Northern’s balance/mix of products, how you decide to experiment with potential new products? How does the perception of Wisconsin as a “beer and brandy” state inform that?

The products we have developed started with a combination of what raw ingredients were available locally and what spirits I personally was passionate about. Since 2013, we have expanded to five spirits (Potato Vodka, Herbalist Gin, Opportunity Rum, Vanguard Whiskey, Rye Whiskey) sold statewide.

The first of our core products was our potato vodka, largely because Plover is right in the middle of potato fields. Also, potato vodka seems to be an underserved part of a very crowded category and a flavorful vodka is even less common.

Our other spirits all have some unique reason for being - I don't want any to just be a "me-too" product. The best example of this is our Vanguard Whiskey which is technically a bourbon, but with a very low corn component compared to a traditional Kentucky spirits. With a high proportion of wheat barley and rye, our flavor profile skews toward a Canadian whiskey. My idea is to define what a Wisconsin Whiskey flavor profile should be - a spirit with the richness of bourbon, but the smoothness of Canadian whiskey. 

We definitely experiment with new products and have done limited releases of spirits around Black Friday in November and our anniversary party in May. Sometimes they go to market through distribution like our Doppelganger Whiskey made from O'so Brewing's Dominator Doppelbock beer and sometimes they are sold at our distillery only like our Barreled Gin this past May. Our next release is a coffee spirit that we are making in partnership with Ruby Coffee Roasters a couple of miles away from us in Nelsonville, WI. 

I think the perception of Wisconsin as a "beer and brandy" state is not giving enough credit to a unique drinking culture that has developed here over generations. Whether it is rye whiskey in the Fox Valley, jezynowka here in central Wisconsin, or cherry bounce in Door County there is a lot more going on than most people realize. One clear preference among most consumers here is smoothness/easy drinking spirits are associated with high quality. This is very different from the southern palate that prefers their whiskey to have some fire and burn. Smoothness is a family resemblance that carries through all of our spirits and is a result of the way we ferment, our style of equipment, and where we make our cuts.

What made you decide to make that leap of faith from your previous profession to plunge into the world of craft spirits?
It all started back in Feb 2012 when i was having cocktails at the Marvel Bar in Minneapolis with a group of my friends. One had just read an article in Popular Mechanics magazine about craft distilling and thought it would be something cool to try. I was a frustrated chemical engineer in the paper industry and wasn't looking forward to another 25 years of mergers, downsizings, mill closures, and bankruptcies, so this was my lightbulb moment. He and I spent about a year studying the industry and writing a business plan that lead to Great Northern starting in November 2013.

For years, I looked for a second profession that could combine my engineering training, sales & marketing skills I'd developed , and a good culinary palate. Craft distilling hits all of those items and it seems like the right time to be entering the field. It feels like where craft brewing was 10-15 years ago.

What’s the single most important lesson working in the paper industry taught you that you’ve applied to running a distillery? (Aside from your handsome business cards, obviously.) What’s an unexpected principle that you’ve found yourself applying in both contexts?

The most important lesson probably was a commitment to safety in an industrial setting. Even though we are small and only have a few people working in production day to day, many safety hazards are comparable to working in a paper mill. I think there are a lot of people that get into the craft distilling business with a romanticized view of being a "maker". The hazards of steam, forklifts, and tanks can take your life if you don't treat them with respect. 

Something unexpected I've used in both are principals of quality control and lean six sigma. I never thought I'd go back to some of those techniques.

You guys have a commitment to sourcing ingredients within a pretty tight mileage radius. Is there any tension between that philosophy and American Craft Gin’s explosion in popularity abroad, especially in the UK and continental Europe–which seem to be obviously compelling markets?

At this point, not at all! While we are actively pursuing an export program, our production volumes are manageable and we can maintain our 150 mile sourcing radius. I feel we create a gin and a flavor that is rooted here in Wisconsin, but it can go around the world so everyone can experience a taste of our home.

For the base spirit of our gin, we use red winter wheat and wheat malt, all of which are readily available in that radius. Our botanicals have always been a challenge to source within 150 miles because while all of them can grow in Wisconsin, not all have a commercial source here. Juniper is the toughest for us and comes mainly from Oregon. About half of our Coriander comes from a couple of local CSA's and home gardeners that let their cilantro go to seed at the end of the season. Rose hips come from Iowa and lavender comes from Door County. The only ingredient that will be a challenge as we grow is our new growth spruce tips. They are only available for a couple of weeks in the springtime and are hand foraged for our gin.    

Is it fair to say your mustache is something of a signature? How did you decide you were a mustache man? Any grooming tips, product recommendations?

The big handlebar mustache and beard have become a bit of a trademark look for me since starting Great Northern. I've wanted to grow a luxuriant mustachio for a long time, but always had to keep my facial hair trimmed at the mills since I needed to pass respirator fit tests. I like to think it predates the current hipster beard trend, but I'm sure the trend in Brooklyn started before I left the mills in 2012.

I use Dandy Candy mustache wax from Petal Pusher Fancies and it seems to keep thing mostly in order.

What’s the closest you’ve been to the North Pole?

When the central Wisconsin paper mills I worked for were purchased by a Finnish/Swedish company, I had a chance to visit the Veitsiluoto paper mill in Kemi, Finland. It is the northernmost mill in the world and only about 50 miles from the arctic circle. Still 1,600 miles from the north pole, but I stayed in an ice hotel.


Agave Gauntlet : Jack Neiweem


Agave Gauntlet : Jack Neiweem

Competitors in MCW's kickoff, the Agave Gauntlet: Casa Noble Cocktail Relay, will be paired off into teams by drawing straws the night of the competition. Some are longtime pals, some are relative newcomers; some gregarious, some a touch reserved: we figured we should level the playing field by helping them, and you, get to know each other a little better a head of time.


"I always knew that I wanted to tend bar"  -Jack Neiweem

"I always knew that I wanted to tend bar" 

-Jack Neiweem

Jack Neiweem began his service industry career at Forequarter as a pinch-dishwasher while studying English literature at UW-Madison. Jack's unparalleled speed and dexterity garnered attention to his "fast hands," for which he was plucked from the pit and raised behind the stick. Jack trained under the excellence of Forequarter's bar program under Hastings Cameron and Dave Biefer, which in his later years he will recall as the genesis of his carpal tunnel, as well as the source of his vast reservoir of knowledge and hospitality. 

Jack navigated about the Underground Food Collective bar works, eventually stepping up to become bar manager at Forequarter. When Jack is not working, he can be found at the UW seeking internal serenity through study and performance of a traditional Javanese style of court music called Gamelan, as well as fulfilling aspiring night life impressario dreams with DJ sets at Genna's Cocktail Lounge.





Place you work + your shift schedule:

Forequarter Bar: Friday 9p-2a; Saturday, open-9p; Sunday: 6-12a; Monday 6-12a

twitter/instagram handle:

  • Twitter:@jackandthewolf
  • IG: crocs_convert

Who do you consider a mentor? Most important lesson they taught you?

I consider Dougie Haystacks Hastings Cameron my "Bar-Mom." He taught me to persevere in the face of heckling, stay agile/whimsical/take short steps, and to always prove that you're better than someone else by doing what they are doing faster than they can do it. The latter being a sub-concept of "powering through," which is when you essentially force a square block through the circle hole, preferably to some MOP or really any other bangin' hip hop played on repeat, over and over again, to stay in the zone, and powering through.

What sensations/emotions does the phrase "personal brand" immediately invoke?

See Ed Hong's influence on community bar-slang; Beau Deveraux's single cougar-bait braid; or Mark the Spark's cornucopia of rail eau de vie.

Favorite work of art:

A paloma DHC made for me in 2012

Tequila: sip neat, or in a cocktail?

I love Tequila Sunrises.

MSG: Parmesan or Uncut Powder?

I prefer capsules.

Setting aside lime & orange – what are your go-to flavor combinations for agave distillates?


What's your favorite Wisconsin/Midwestern source of acid – something tart/tangy to balance a cocktail?

Zanthoxylum americanum

Over-under on how soon Wisconsin will be wine country:

I'll run that one by Bob.

Your favorite tool (bar... or life):

Raffy (Centrifuge if that's too mean.)

Favorite vessel you've sipped out of:

Christian Louboutin Ombré Crystal Leather Pumps



Agave Gauntlet : Mariah Renz


Agave Gauntlet : Mariah Renz

Mariah Renz arrived in Madison in 2006, a transplant from the wilds of Ohio, and quickly proved herself a real-deal badass, and major contributor to the Madison cocktail scene. Her work at such legendary joints as Café Montmartre, the notorious and now James Beard-nominated Osteria Papavero, and the Capitol’s iconic cigar bar, Maduro, has led to her current post at the helm of the bar at Julep, the newly-minted Southern whiskey-in-a-tin place to be. We would recommend always agreeing with her.


Agave Gauntlet : Clint Sterwald


Agave Gauntlet : Clint Sterwald

Madison Cocktail Week organizer Tom Dufek has known Clint Sterwald nearly 10 years, first meeting at Milwaukee’s Hi-Hat, where Tom toiled under Clint’s iron fistas an apple-cheeked young barback. Perhaps Tom was projecting. To the rest of us, Clint’s simply a mensch and avid staff mentor who crafts balanced, food-friendly cocktails and has a flair for the dramatic garnish.